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Telecommuting is a popular practice among employers and employees, praised for adding flexibility to the workweek, cutting down on commutes, even increasing worker productivity. As such, more and more employers in the United States offer flexible work arrangements.

Yet working from home has a financial downside, according to a recent study of American workers. In 2012, researchers found that most telecommuting is actually overtime: More than two-thirds of time worked at home was additional hours of work — not replacing time in the office. Now, the same team shows that there’s no monetary benefit to those extra home hours: Compared to those who stay in the office, salaried employees who telecommute receive little to no financial benefit for working overtime.

“We were really shocked at what we found,” says study coauthor Jennifer Glass of the University of Texas at Austin. “There’s nothing gained when you do your overtime at home.”

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In 2012, Glass and colleague Mary Noonan at the University of Iowa found that the vast majority of telecommuting hours occur as overtime. The question was whether people were being paid for that extra effort?

In their most recent paper, Glass and Noonan drew data from a long-term survey by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics that has followed a group of American workers since 1979. The survey polled workers at regular intervals from 1989 to 2008. Among midlife employees working in salaried, professional jobs, more than 40 percent reported working from home at some point during the survey period — about four to six hours per week on average.

Based on their annual salaries, the researchers found little difference in earnings between those who sometimes worked from home and those who worked exclusively in an office. That equality changed when Glass and Noonan looked at overtime.

Those who worked overtime at home did not see annual wage growth. Those who worked overtime in an office did.

“When you work overtime on site, your employer sees you; your work is visible . . . and you see subsequent wage growth,” says Glass. The trend held true among men and women, fathers and mothers.

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Employees should try to fit telecommuting into those first 40 hours of work, suggests Glass. Replacing time at the office with telecommuting — the type of telecommuting most people hope for — yields the same wage growth as time worked at the office.

But try not to do it as overtime work.

“Why do we continue to work from home as unpaid overtime? Answering those e-mails on the weekend or taking that memo home to finish it,” says Glass. “All of that is unnoticed, being uncounted, and not really helping you in terms of your annual wage or salary.”


Megan Scudellari can be reached at megan@scudellari.com